Thanks to a $350,000 shot in the proverbial arm from the St. Louis Police Foundation and the Berges Family Foundation, the St. Louis County Police Department has upgraded their training facilities with an interactive use of force simulator. The old one-screen “shoot or don’t shoot” system has now evolved into a five-screen, 300-degree simulation with live actors. This use of force simulator’s capacity for immersion is only enhanced by the operator’s control of other variables like weather and electronic impulses to ramp up the participating officers’ psychological stressors.
Jim Berges told News 4 of St. Louis County that, “Seeing the excitement in the eight or nine officers we’ve met here and watched go through the simulations and how excited they are about this piece of equipment tells us it was a home run.”
According to Sgt. John Wall of the St. Louis County Police Academy, the simulator’s 120 different scenarios are intended as training for the entire spectrum of law enforcement situations “all the way to a disturbance call or a domestic call or a car stop call.”
It even offers up the full-scale nightmare of a school shooting, but circumstances aside, the emphasis is reportedly less on firearms and more on de-escalation through verbal tactics. However, as the video below illustrates, the use of anything from a flashlight to an assault rifle is fair game in handling these virtual criminals.
This brings us to the political climate surrounding law enforcement on America’s streets, and it arguably hasn’t been so incendiary since the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 60s. In addition to the local officers, the use of force simulator will see trainees from 56 other police departments in the region, and from there, we’re bound to see more of this technology being used for various forms of vocational blade-sharpening. So what exactly is the practical benefit of this implementation, and how is St. Louis County tracking/measuring the impact of this superior training equipment to justify the price tag and allocation of funds regardless of where that money came from?
If this kind of training is going to see widespread adoption outside of St. Louis and in your community as things like virtual reality and augmented reality come back into style with the technology to support them, then we all have a responsibility to somehow make sure they are put in place to increase accountability and safety … especially if roughly 75 percent of police departments are opting to forgo the use of body cameras according to a 2013 survey funded by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum. After all, behind the uniform, police officers are just fallible human beings living in the ubiquity of video game violence and technological desensitization like the rest of us. Therefore, the potential danger here is that the use of force simulator becomes a similar kind of distraction on steroids.